Tag Archives: St. Michael’s Cemetery

125-year-old East Elmhurst flower shop blossoms next to controversial homeless shelter


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Angy Altamirano

For more than a century, one East Elmhurst family has been helping their neighborhood bloom.

Donhauser Florist, located at 71-01 Astoria Blvd., was established in 1889 by Hans Donhauser, a German florist who immigrated to the United States. While working at a Brooklyn cemetery he heard that St. Michael’s Cemetery in Queens was in need of a florist.

He then moved to East Elmhurst and built a greenhouse on 71st Street and Astoria Boulevard. After a few years, 12 more greenhouses were added and a flower shop was built on 49th Street and Astoria Boulevard.

Donhauser’s family worked at the shop, including his sons, daughters and even his great granddaughter Gladys.

“When your parents are in the business, you’re in the business,” said Gladys about working at the shop since she was 12 years old. “It’s all I’ve known.”

Donhauser Florist moved to 71-01 Astoria Blvd. and replaced one existing greenhouse, while the other 12 were later sold to become the Westway Motor Inn.

Gladys, who grew up at the house currently still standing next to the shop, has owned the store since 1977 together with her husband William Gray, who initially started working at the 49th Street shop.

Since then the Grays have been providing flower arrangements for their neighbors, some of whom they have shared first communions with and years later, weddings. William even arranged all the flowers for his own wedding.

The shop provides flowers for visitors to St. Michael’s Cemetery, located across the Grand Central Parkway, first communions, weddings and other special occasions.

However, the Grays, who have been married for 60 years, say business has been up and down ever since the city’s Department of Homeless Services decided to first use the Westway Motor Inn, located right next door, as a temporary homeless shelter.

“It was once an exquisite hotel with beautiful rooms and a pool,” Gladys said. “Since about a decade ago we started to have problems with it. People were afraid to come around the shop.”

Two weeks ago, the city approved converting the motel into a permanent homeless shelter housing more than 120 families.

Although they are nervous on how the permanent shelter will affect the community and their business, the couple continues to welcome customers with smiles on their faces.

“I hope it stays for 125 more years,” Gladys said.

 

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St. Michael’s Cemetery looking to expand


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of St. Michael’s Cemetery

St. Michael’s Cemetery in East Elmhurst is looking to expand in order to continue serving the community — both in this life and after.

In order to make sure St. Michael’s, located at 72-02 Astoria Boulevard, does not run out of space and continues to serve the community, the cemetery is in talks to purchase a city park space located by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) and 30th Avenue.

According to Ed Horn, a St. Michael’s official, the park property has been abandoned for years and there is no access to the space except through the cemetery.

“It’s not a park, it has never been a park,” said Horn. “The cemetery is a vital resource for the community. There is a great civil and social purpose for acquiring this land.”

In order for St. Michael’s to purchase the land, it must work with the Parks Department to identify replacement parkland.

“The land is not a park, it’s completely in despair,” said State Senator Michael Gianaris, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate for the cemetery to obtain the land. “It’s not functional at the moment. This presents an opportunity for a win-win. A small business gets to utilize a place in despair and we get a park space in return.”

The narrow park strip which the cemetery is looking to acquire was designated to serve as a landscaped buffer along the western side of the BQE, according to a Parks spokesperson.

They added the city is still in discussions with St. Michael’s Cemetery and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services about obtaining the site and about finding the best replacement.

“Right now, the cost of a local funeral is very high, mostly due to a shortage of cemetery space in our community,” said Assemblymember Aravella Simotas. “Permitting an abandoned and generally inaccessible parcel of parkland to be used by St. Michael’s Cemetery would stabilize plot costs and prevent our loved ones from being priced out of a burial in their own community.”

 

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Honoring the fallen at St. Michael’s


| bdoda@queenscourier.com

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Equally as striking as the monument listing the names of the 343 firefighters that sacrificed their lives on September 11, 2001 are the bricks at its base with the names of the first responders from all emergency services that died as a result of working on “the pile.” As of now, the number of first responder deaths remains at 95, but there are plenty of bricks that will undoubtedly add to that number. The memorial service and dedication at St. Michael’s Cemetery honoring fallen firefighters, police and Port Authority officers brought together elected leaders, FDNY and NYPD officials, as well as families of those lost for an afternoon of grieving and a celebration of their lives. The event, on Saturday, September 24, began with an invocation by Father Christopher Keenan who read the Gettysburg Address followed by a statement by Congressmember Joe Crowley who commented on the two dozen young firefighters dressed in bunker gear who stood during the ceremony. “They’re taking up a job that has a legacy,” said Crowley. “Many believed that the fire department could never recover after the attack, but nothing could be more false . . . They have never forgotten those that have fallen.” Crowley also included an anecdote about his cousin John Moran, a Battalion Chief on Randall’s Island who died at the World Trade Center. “I’m sure each and every one of you can take out a moment about a son or daughter that you lost that day and look back and smile,” said Crowley. Congressmember Carolyn Maloney, one of the sponsors of the Zadroga Act – named for police officer James Zadroga who died of a respiratory disease attributed to toxins at Ground Zero – spoke to the long road the legislation took until enacted in January 2011. The act expands death benefits and monitored care for those who worked at the World Trade Center site. “Who would have thought it would have taken us seven years to pass the Zadroga Act?” asked Maloney. “This bill will save lives. We will not stop until we make sure that it continues to take care of the men and women who took care of us.” She continued to mention the beauty of the 9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site and urged those in attendance to take a trip downtown to see it. Also in attendance was Comptroller John Liu who helped fund the St. Michael’s 9/11 memorial, Former Council Speaker Peter Vallone, Sr., FDNY Chief Kevin Butler, PAPD Inspector Brian Sullivan, NYPD Chief Dianna Pizzutti as well as the PAPD Pipes and Drums, among other special guests. Former FDNY Chief Alexander Santora and his wife, Maureen who – along with Ed Horn of St. Michaels – were instrumental in erecting the memorial, spoke about the importance of remembering those, like their son, Christopher, who died on 9/11. After encouraging those in attendance to come back to see the additions to the bricks at the base of the memorial, the former chief summed up the feeling of many on hand: “They have one hell of a fire department up in heaven.”